This was another one of those chapters that just wouldn't write itself and was coaxed and cajoled the whole way.
My next project is my summer_of_spike fic and I'm not feeling inspired. I'd better get on with it...
Chapter Twelve - Retreat
After a moment, in which Buffy’s heart felt like it had popped the Champagne before the rest of her could catch up with the celebration, she was able to croak out his name. “Spike?”
His answering smile had about as much warmth as the depths of deep space. “You could say that.”
Buffy’s heart chilled too, something was amiss. The mild euphoria that had fluttered in her chest as he’d walked out of the woods, all dark leather and pale skin - a punk Lazarus resurrected from the embrace of heaven - settled as all her instincts warned her to be wary of the game face he wore. Her Slayer senses were feelings that weren’t easily dismissed; even if she wanted more than anything to believe that he’d survived the Hellmouth, they shouted vampire along the highways and back roads of her nervous system, making her ready for fight or flight.
She took a step towards him, still suspicious of those heavy, distorted brows, yet drawn to him, magnetised, reeled in despite her uncanny sense that all was not right. Amber eyes caught her gaze, their unnatural opacity walling him off from her, giving nothing away. She wanted to search for all those stormy emotions that used to rage within the blue eyes he was hiding; the bright love, the adoring devotion, even that familiar little spark of hate they’d both retained, which had never quite gone out and was uniquely theirs, fuelling something which she could now bear to call passion. But he blinked back at her with a dead vampire stare and he just felt wrong, wrong, wrong to her, as if someone was trying to play with her head again by taking a poke at her most tender spots. For all her sad nostalgia wanting him to return, it was impossible and whatever this cruel joke turned out to be, she would not believe it. She should have trusted what she’d already known, that vivid memory of feeling him start to burn, crumble to dust, as she held his hand, his flesh losing its cohesion in her grasp. He’d died a hero, and she wasn’t going to let this creature before her, whatever it was, take that away.
Disappointed and embarrassed that she’d almost fallen for the deception, Buffy shook her head, as if doing so might dispel the illusion or break the spell. “Oh no, you can’t do this to me…”
Not-Spike moved into her personal space, too close for her comfort.
She instinctively took a step back, recoiling from the evil she could sense in this being; black menace, the kind that she’d not felt from Spike in years, if ever, radiating in waves from it’s essence. No way was this thing going to touch her.
“You’re not him,” she hissed, angry as a rattlesnake in the hot sun.
“No, I’m not. Borrowed the body off an old friend,” he grinned, flashing her one of Spike’s rare smiles. Flamboyantly, he patted down the toned chest that strained against the tight T-Shirt, then stretched out his hands, inspecting the long fingers she remembered gliding gently across her skin. “It’s a bit singed, but it’ll do.”
“Then who are...?” she asked, confused and feeling sicker by the minute.
Not-Spike’s face melted back from the heavy ridges of the vampire into Spike’s human face. Seeing the delicate bone structure emerge from under the thick brows caused the pang of loss that was already knifing through her to make an even deeper cut. It leaned in closer, close enough for her to feel its breath, drawn irregularly to speak but not to breathe, gently brushing across the skin of her face. “We have a little unfinished business you and me. Think closing the Hellmouth would be enough? Did you think it would defeat me? I have power beyond your ability to imagine.”
“The First,” she said harshly through clenched teeth, holding her ground despite its proximity.
“Yeah,” The First sneered. It moved back, looking bored, then struck her. Hard. A good solid thump to the face that sent her tumbling to the ground in surprise. “And it seems I’ve got myself a nice upgrade.”
For a moment, Buffy sat there on the rough path, dazed, ignoring the sharp stones as they dug into her thigh, trying to determine what this new development could mean. She rubbed her cheek where The First had hit her; it stung but not as much as the wound to her heart. “You’re corporeal?”
“I can touch, feel… punch,” The First chuckled, gloating. “I think I like it.”
"So what? You're solid now, that just means I can kick your ass!" Buffy bounced lightly to her feet with the anticipation of the fight. She ducked inside The First’s guard and kicked with a move that would have been vicious if it hadn’t been half-hearted. They’d been a time when it had been so easy to hit Spike, when he wouldn’t shut hit his big mouth or she’d wanted to smash away her attraction to him. If she destroyed his face, then she might destroy the temptation. She'd hammered her hate into his face with her fists. Pounding and pounding, punching and punching, trying to obliterate his pretty features, trying to obliterate her misery by removing any reminder of why she was wrong. But now she had lost her taste for it. They’d both changed and the man he’d become deserved more than that, and if she couldn’t show him his worth to her then, her reluctance now would have to do.
Her move was easily blocked with a smooth manoeuvre that Buffy recognised from Spike’s broad repertoire; underhand brawling tricks picked up from a hundred plus years of soulless scraping she’d rather not think about. The First grabbed her leg and yanked it sideways. She felt something tear inside, tendons, ligaments, things that weren’t meant to twist and she howled as the pain flared like a supernova. Then it let her go, shoving her away with a spurning push. She stumbled as she tried to regain her balance, struggling to favour her injured ankle, but her anger was now focused and strong.
“Not so easy, is it?” The First said as it dodged under Buffy’s next attack, a feeble punch that could harness little power or reach in the circumstances.
She turned back to him, squaring off ready for another attempt. “You’ve got Spike’s moves, Spike’s body, so what? I fought him often enough and I could take him down. You shouldn’t be a problem.”
The First straightened and circled her, jeering. “You never did though, did you? Why was that?”
Buffy gaped, her stance wavering as she struggled for an answer. “I don’t… I suppose the chip…”
The First frowned as it thought that over. “Really? The chip is gone. Why is your pulse is racing right now?”
“Are we now?” The First raised an eyebrow with a scar from a wound it had never received. “Spike was your lover. You…”
“That’s none of your business,” Buffy interrupted. “And you are not him.”
“No, I’m really not,” The First stopped walking. “Yet you still desire this body. I can smell it.”
“Ugh, that vampire smelling thing again! Is nothing private? Okay. I want Spike, and he’s gone. I don’t know why you’re in his body, but I won’t let you play with me anymore.”
“Are you sure?” The First rubbed its stomach, his hand slipping lower to his groin, cupping the bulge. “I think I like the sound of that.”
She rolled her eyes. “Is that the best you can do? Idle threats and innuendo? Believe me, I’ve heard it.”
“No more games,” The First growled in a low, dangerous voice as it stepped closer again. “I will have my revenge.”
Buffy put her hands on her hips, trying for defiant despite the awful nagging pain in her foot and the desperate urge to cry. She’d have laughed if this whole scenario weren’t so heartbreaking. “And what? You’ll ‘kill me on Saturday’?”
“It’s not time yet,” The First cupped her cheek with a delicately soft touch, a caress she found she ached for even as she cringed from the touch of this imposter.
She pulled away sharply with a gasp. “I’m here to do something about that.”
“You’re here because I want you to be, Slayer.”
“Is that right?” Buffy punched again, this time lashing out with her all her anger and her pain, but even though her hook hit as hard as a hammer against the wall of its shoulder, her next one was easily foiled as the First caught her by her wrists, holding her tightly as she fought to free herself. It was improbably strong and its grip was a iron shackle she couldn’t break. She looked up, speechless, into eyes that had once been windows to a soul regained just for her and. Eyes that had once brimmed with emotion, burning intense as a furnace, blue as flame, but now held only contempt.
“You can’t win, you know,” the First whispered.
“It’s two outta two for Buffy so far,” she snapped back.
The First didn’t seem alarmed by her threat. “Not for long.”
Buffy stopping wriggling in his grip and glared. “There’s no Hellmouth here. No uber-vamp army to bail you out.”
“And you’re hurt. You’ve got no witch, no watcher, no other Slayers but you - nice plan by the way - but it won’t work. I am everywhere. I am as old as dust. I am in the hearts of the living and the dead.”
“And you’re boring me. If you could win so easily, you would have done it already.”
“Then it looks like a stalemate, doesn’t it?” The First grinned, dropping her hands and releasing her. “Except… Lookee here. Been having myself a bit of fun!”
And then out of the darkness, out of the woods, they came; a village of the damned; everywhere she looked, vampires, dozens of them, an improbable posse filling the track behind her with the undead; a kaleidoscopic cross-section of modern cosmopolitan Britain; fair English faces, sallow and ghastly post-mortem, and darker, more exotic complexions drawn from across an empire. The First didn’t need a Hellmouth full of Turok Han; it was building itself a new army.
The First walked over to a group of vamps that lined the fence before the trees. He looked over them proudly, like a general inspecting his crack troops before a decisive battle; it was delighted with its own creations. It turned back to her. “I think you’d better leave.”
All her years of Slaying had taught Buffy when to pick her battles. She nodded and turned her back on the village, walking away, dragging her sore foot in defeat.
Sleep became a stranger that night. Buffy lay awake, wrapped deep into thick, snuggly blankets to ward off the creeping cold, her small body lost in the expanse of the huge four poster bed. She stared into darkness, a thick absolute of nothing, listening. At this time of night the house felt alive, sentient and patiently watchful, anticipating. Its antique timbers creaked and groaned as it respired, contracting with the pre-dawn chill, freezing the moisture on her tear-streaked cheeks with its icy breath.
Her ankle ached with a dull, constant throb; her Slayer healing knitting the damaged attachments back together as she lay. Earlier, with The First’s mocking laughter still in ricochet inside her head and the shock of the meeting still jangling on her nerves, she had reached the haven of The Retreat, unopposed by any of its newly made vamps. As she put ice on her injury, the adrenalin seeped from her system and her confidence ebbed. She’d been lucky tonight and she knew it. Their entire meeting in the village that evening had been a posturing pre-show, the weigh-in for the big fight to come, a chance to twist the knife into her with a few well-timed taunts. The First had let her go, a sadistic enemy playing with its prey, holding his army back, choosing to set her free in order to squeeze the maximum anguish from her before moving to checkmate. The vamps had watched her return to the house, dozens of them, no part of the track left unobserved; a cautious pack of jackals, circling, keeping their distance, never touching her, allowing her to pass, but making no secret that only their master kept them in check. The First stayed behind, letting its plans unfold, the order of their execution as important as its goal. There was no need to chase her yet; it had her cornered and unsettled, no transport, no communications and no chance of rescue, just her own ability to survive. She was its mercy, or so it thought.
This time she had to finish the spiral of The First’s return and retreat, win the war and beat it back until it couldn’t return to ruin her life or that of her friends again. She needed to find a permanent solution, as she knew from bitter experience that it would not leave until it was done. As the Hellmouth had fallen into itself, they had considered it defeated, the Watcher’s Council finally declaring it dealt with, the legion of new Slayers a deterrent to its reappearance. Yet it had returned, singling her out for personal vengeance, walking in Spike’s skin to bait her, but she hadn’t been fooled that easily. She might miss Spike, and until this evening she hadn’t realised just how much or how strong the bonds between them had been, but she’d seen nothing of Spike in his expression or felt any of the heady tension that had always buzzed between them. What she had recognised in those eyes was the kind of malice and demonic loathing projected from a black heart. Even soulless, Spike had always had shades of grey, facets to his big personality; scraps of vulnerability that gave away the traces of humanity left in the monster, but in The First that precious spark was missing; the twinkle of mischief replaced by something darker, a glow more feral and utterly evil. That thing, it wore Spike’s face, it looked like him, spoke with his voice; walked with Spike’s swaggering walk as it sidled up to join her, but in that moment she had understood completely that it wasn’t the Spike she knew.
As she sought sleep, she curled up, foetal, trying not to think, pushing away her thoughts in a desperate attempt to stop them from overwhelming her; but as soon as she drove them out, they would return regardless. The First was walking the earth in the body of her dead lover, mocking all he’d died for, parading his body before her with glee. It wasn’t fair and it was going to stop, but for now, even though she knew it was what The First wanted, she allowed herself her private tears.
Previous parts are here.
Thanks this round go to hesadevil, calove, and myfeetshowit